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Published: 10:36, September 16, 2021 | Updated: 01:08, September 17, 2021
Singapore begins COVID-19 vaccine booster program
By Agencies
Published:10:36, September 16, 2021 Updated:01:08, September 17, 2021 By Agencies

Travelers push their luggage on trolleys across a pedestrian crossing to enter the departure hall of Changi International Airport in Singapore on Aug 19, 2021. (ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

JAKARTA / SYDNEY / PHNOM PENH / YANGON / SINGAPORE / TEHRAN / ANKARA / WELLINGTON / SEOUL / KUALA LUMPUR / VIENTIANE / ISLAMABAD / MANILA / BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN- Singapore this week began its program to give booster shots for those above 60 years and people who are immuno-compromised. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post that 3,200 seniors stepped forward to receive boosters on Wednesday, and more than 12,000 have made appointments for shots.

Singapore is launching the program as cases surge in the island nation, with daily infections topping 800, though critical cases remain under control. The government has said it’ll seek to stick to the course of living with COVID-19 for now, though officials warned daily cases may rise to 2,000 in a few weeks.

Singapore's health ministry reported 910 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest since May last year

Singapore's health ministry reported 910 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, the highest since May last year.

A recent rise in cases after relaxation of some COVID-19 measures has prompted Singapore to pause on further reopening. More than 80 percent of its population has been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Iran

Iran’s new government has approved use of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, a senior official said on Thursday, as the Islamic Republic fights a fifth wave of infections.

“The Johnson & Johnson single-dose corona vaccine has been approved,” the head of Iran's Food and Drug Administration, Mohammad Reza Shanehsaz, was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

He did not say where the vaccine would be produced while adding that Russia’s single-component Sputnik Light vaccine had also been approved.

"Fortunately, the basket of the CORONA vaccines registered in Iran has become very diverse and large,” he added.

Iran is trying to speed up vaccinations by using imported doses - including Sputnik V, India’s Covaxin made by Bharat Biotech, and the British-developed Oxford/AstraZeneca shot produced by Russia’s R-Pharm group and AstraZeneca-SKBio in South Korea. Iran also uses its own COVIran Barakat shot.

The health ministry says 13 million out of a population of 83 million have been fully inoculated.

Health Minister Bahram Einollahi said on Thursday that Iran had vaccinated 7.9 million people over the past week, state media reported.

The ministry on Thursday reported 18,021 new infections in the past 24 hours, bringing total cases to 5,378,408 in Iran, the worst hit country in the Middle East. There were 6,981 acute cases and deaths rose by 453 over the same period to 116,072.

Iranian policemen man a checkpoint on a highway in the capital Tehran leading to the country's north, on Aug 16, 2021, at the start of renewed restrictions for 5 days to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Brunei

Brunei resumed the COVID-19 first-dose vaccination on Thursday after receiving the Sinopharm vaccines from China days ago.

Due to a shortage of supply of COVID-19 vaccines following thousands of locally transmitted cases detected since August, the Brunei government had to temporarily suspend the first-dose vaccination from Sept 1.

A total of 100,000 doses of Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine and 102,400 syringes donated by the Chinese government arrived at Brunei on Sept 12.

Brunei's Second Minister of Foreign Affairs Haji Erywan and Minister of Health Haji Mohd Isham both expressed thanks to the Chinese government for contributing the Sinopharm vaccine in need on behalf of the Sultanate.

According to Haji Mohd Isham, with the Sinopharm vaccine donation from China and the incoming AstraZeneca vaccine from Japan, at least 100,000 more people in Brunei can be fully vaccinated.

According to Brunei's Ministry of Health, the vaccination appointment slots for those affected by the first-dose postponement will be automatically shifted and they will be given priority in stages.

The health ministry said the National Vaccination Program is implemented with the aim of providing COVID-19 vaccine injections to all the citizens and residents in Brunei, including foreigners residing in the country.

Brunei reported 109 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the national tally to 4,675.

All the new cases are local infections. While the source of infection of 60 local cases is still under investigation, four new clusters have been detected and two clusters have been closed following no new cases in the clusters for 28 days, which brings the total number of active clusters to 84.

Currently 1,502 active cases are being treated and monitored at the National Isolation Center, with 10 of them in critical condition and 25 other patients under close monitoring.

Brunei also reported 156 recoveries on Thursday. There have been a total of 3,144 recovered patients and 29 deaths so far in the country.

Thailand

 As Thailand gears up for the reopening of Bangkok and several key provinces in October, some doctors warn that hospitalizations could surge again because the vaccination rate remains low across the nation.

Only 18 percent of the population is fully inoculated at present, a level that offers only limited protection from the spread of COVID-19, especially with the impending increase of the movements of people and the arrival of tourists - who will be granted quarantine waivers based on their vaccination status. 

Coverage should exceed 70 percent before reopening because fully vaccinated people can still get infected and spread the virus, said Prasit Watanapa, dean of Mahidol University’s Faculty of Medicine at Siriraj Hospital.

He said that the emergence of a new variant could worsen the situation and squeeze the health-care system. 

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha has pushed for a wider reopening in an effort to boost the foreigner-driven tourism sector. The scrapping of quarantines - typically two weeks - is part of the government’s “living with COVID-19” strategy that aims to revive the economy and put people back to work - while concurrently limiting fallout from the virus. 

The resort island of Phuket, the first province to reopen in July when the vaccination rate there was ramped up to about 70 percent, is now battling spikes in cases, especially among migrants and in fishing communities. 

Thira Woratanarat, an associate professor at Chulalongkorn University’s Faculty of Medicine, said a surge in infections would likely be evident six to eight weeks after the wider tourism reopening. Current control measures include curfews, limits on restaurant dining, clamps on alcohol sales and gym closures. 

The upcoming phases of reopenings are scheduled between Oct 1 and Oct 15, depending on province and the readiness of local authorities. 

“If there’s a new wave of outbreak, it’d be difficult for the majority of people to survive because they have been fighting this for a long time and their resources are running low,” Thira said. “It would inevitably affect the economy in the end.”

People walk past a sign encouraging people to get vaccinated in Melbourne on Aug 31, 2021 as the city experiences it's sixth lockdown as it battles an outbreak of the Delta variant of coronavirus. (WILLIAM WEST / AFP)

Australia

Australia's Victoria state reported on Thursday the year's biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 cases as authorities plan to pause public transport and deploy thousands of police in Melbourne ahead of an anti-lockdown protest over the weekend.

Public transport into the city will be shut from 8 am to 2 pm on Saturday, roads blocked and thousands of police officers deployed in Melbourne, the state capital, Victoria police said Wednesday evening. Offenders could be fined up to A$5,500 (US$4,000) each.

Melbourne's 5 million residents have been enduring their sixth lockdown, the most by any Australian city since the pandemic began, with officials aiming to exit the strict stay-home rules through higher vaccination rates.

A total of 514 new coronavirus infections were detected in Victoria, the majority in Melbourne, exceeding the year's previous daily high of 473 on Monday.

A national reopening plan revealed by the federal government in July urges Australian states and territories to start living with the virus once 70-80 percent of the adult population becomes fully vaccinated.

ALSO READ: S'pore trying to 'live with virus' with world's highest vaccination rate

Cambodia

Cambodian Prime Minister Samdech Techo Hun Sen said Wednesday the Southeast Asian nation will begin a COVID-19 vaccination drive for children from 6 to 12 years old on Friday.

The prime minister said in an audio message released publicly that the country has almost achieved its vaccination goal for adolescents aged from 12 to 18.

Hun Sen, who will attend the launching event at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, said the kingdom has more than 1.8 million children aged from 6 to 12.

"If we do not provide them vaccines, we cannot reopen the primary schools," Hun Sen said.

A health worker prepares a dose of Sinovac's COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination drive at the Baiturrahman grand mosque in Banda Aceh on Sept 7, 2021. (CHAIDEER MAHYUDDIN / AFP)

Indonesia

Indonesia is in talks with the World Health Organization (WHO) as well as six drug companies to become a global hub for manufacturing vaccines, its health minister told Reuters.

Detailing the ambitious strategy for the first time, Budi Gunadi Sadikin said in an interview that Indonesia would kickstart the initiative by prioritizing purchases of COVID-19 vaccines from companies that shared technology and set up facilities in Indonesia.

"We are working with the WHO to be one of the global manufacturing hubs for mRNA," he said, adding he had directly lobbied WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on a trip earlier this month to Europe.

"The WHO has pointed to South Africa as the first location, and I said that logically Indonesia should be the second."

The new "technology transfer hubs" are part of a WHO strategy to more widely distribute vaccine production globally and build capacity in developing countries to make new generation vaccines like Moderna's and Pfizer's nucleic acid-based mRNA jabs which can be quickly adapted to handle new virus variants.

Efforts to develop a base for COVID-19 vaccine production in South Africa will focus on trying to replicate Moderna's shot, but a lack of progress in talks with the US company mean the project will take time, a senior WHO official told Reuters.

Budi said Indonesia was keen to build expertise in mRNA vaccines, as well as viral vector shots such as those produced by AstraZeneca.

A WHO spokesperson said Indonesia was one of 25 low and middle income countries to express interest in hosting a vaccine hub but declined to say if it was a leading candidate.

Budi said Indonesia was well-placed to export vaccines around the world, especially as it is the world's most populous Muslim-majority country and could guarantee that its jabs were halal, or permissible according to Islam.

Budi said Indonesian pharmaceutical companies are in discussions with vaccine manufacturers and developers Anhui, Walvax, Sinovac, Genexine, Arcturus Therapeutics and Novavax. The talks range from basic "fill and finish" to upstream production and research and development, he added.

"We open the same opportunities also to AstraZeneca. We are also open to the existing partner Pfizer," he said. "We are open to anyone."

Meanwhile, Indonesia is allowing foreigners holding more types of visas to enter the country as long as they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

Those holding the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation business travel cards, visitors with permits to stay for diplomatic and work purposes, as well as people having limited or permanent rights to stay can enter the country, according to a statement on the immigration office’s website.

Offshore visa applications have also been reopened as of Thursday.

Southeast Asia’s largest economy has been shut to most foreign travelers since April last year amid the pandemic, only allowing certain visitors to enter for business essential purposes.

The country had considered reopening its borders multiple times as the travel ban battered its tourism industry, while the threat of new coronavirus variants kept its borders closed.

ALSO READ: Vietnam to mix Moderna, Pfizer vaccines against COVID-19

Laos

The Lao government has extended the current nationwide lockdown for 15 more days to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The lockdown will be extended to Sept 30 as the COVID-19 cases continued to rise, Deputy Head of the Prime Minister's Office Thipphakone Chanthavongsa told a press conference here on Wednesday.

Thipphakone added that locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19 are on the rise in Lao capital Vientiane and other provinces, sparking fears that this could cause a major community outbreak as most cases involve the highly contagious Delta variant.

The National Taskforce Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control on Thursday reported 23 new imported cases and 131 locally transmitted cases.

Passengers disembark from a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 738 aircraft after landing in Langkawi from Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Sept 16, 2021, as the holiday island reopened to domestic tourists following closures due to restrictions to halt the spread of the coronavirus. (MOHD RASFAN / AFP)

Malaysia

The first plane carrying tourists in more than four months touched down on the Malaysian island of Langkawi on Thursday and was greeted by a twin water cannon "salute", in the launch of a program to revive a travel sector frozen by the pandemic.

The first batch of 159 travellers from the capital, Kuala Lumpur, arrived eager for a vacation after a months-long, nationwide lockdown imposed to address one of Asia's highest per-capital coronavirus infection rates.

ALSO READ: Malaysia holiday hotspot readies for reopening with tourism bubble

Known for its beaches, geoparks, bird life and impressive rock formations, Langkawi, a group of 99 islands, is the test case in a drive to allow vaccinated domestic travellers to take part in holiday activities under agreed health protocols.

"My last holiday was last year ... countless months already, I felt like I'll go mental also soon," said Beverly Tiew, 42, from Kuala Lumpur. "So I'm excited and super, super happy and I'm thankful that the government is open about it and we can come and travel."

Langkawi, in the Straits of Malacca, is not expecting huge visitor numbers initially, with a target of 400,000 people by the end of the year, and projections they will spend 165 million ringgit (US$39.66 million).

Malaysia has vaccinated more than half of its 32 million population against COVID-19. It has recorded over 2 million cases and more than 20,000 deaths.

Myanmar

Myanmar reported 2,424 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing the tally to 438,951 cases in the country on Wednesday, according to a release from the Ministry of Health.

The death toll has increased to 16,784 on Wednesday after 91 more deaths were reported, the release said.

New Zealand

Three mobile vaccine buses are launched here on Thursday to help people fasten their COVID-19 vaccination in New Zealand's Auckland.

According to local media, twelve such buses in total converted from airport Park and Ride vehicles will be provided to suburbs where access to vaccinations is more difficult.

The converted black and orange airport buses have vaccination signs posted on their sides. One reads "Roll up your sleeves, Auckland", and another "Vaccinate for Auckland."

Auckland, the biggest and most populated city in New Zealand, is experiencing the fifth consecutive week of Level 4 lockdown, the longest period since COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

New Zealand reported 13 new community cases of Delta variant of COVID-19 on Thursday, all in the largest city Auckland, which brought the total number of cases in the country's community outbreak to 996.

Pakistan

Pakistan recorded 3,012 new COVID-19 cases over the last 24 hours, the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) said on Thursday.

The NCOC, a department leading Pakistan's campaign against the pandemic, said that the country's number of overall confirmed cases has risen to 1,215,821.

South Korea

South Korea reported 1,943 more cases of the COVID-19 as of midnight Wednesday compared to 24 hours ago, raising the total number of infections to 279,930.

The daily caseload was down from 2,079 in the prior day, but it hovered above 1,000 for 72 straight days. The daily average tally for the past week was 1,780.

The Philippines

The Philippines is running low on tocilizumab, an arthritis drug by Swiss company Roche that’s been approved for some COVID-19 patients. 

The Southeast Asian’s supply of the drug, also known as Actemra, is already at “critical” level after record-high infections, said vaccine czar Carlito Galvez, as he asked President Rodrigo Duterte to personally appeal for help from the Swiss government.

The Philippines' Department of Health reported 21,261 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,304,192.

The DOH also reported 277 coronavirus-related deaths, raising the country's death toll to 36,018.

Turkey

Turkey on Wednesday confirmed 28,224 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 6,738,890, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 248 to 60,641, the ministry sa

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